Selling Your Crap To Get Out of Debt is Fine, But I Wish I’d Done This Instead

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By Val Breit | TheCommonCentsClub.com.

About six years ago, I found myself sporting a hideous pointy black cap and parachute gown that could have fit three of me inside.

I held a piece of paper in my hands and wore a big smile on my face.

It was graduation day. I had earned my master’s degree and was ready to take on the world. What you can’t see is the hole of debt I had dug myself into to get that degree.

I had used student loans to pay for almost all of my college expenses and now was time to pay it back–with interest.

Actually, the day I saw how much the interest was going to cost to repay over the life of my loan was the day I decided I was going to attack it like a maniac.

Common Get Out of Debt Advice I Ignored

Like most people who are trying to figure out how to manage their money and get out of debt, I stumbled upon Dave Ramsey and Dani Johnson.

They were both smart and inspirational, but some of their principals did not jive with me, especially the:

  • $1,000 emergency fund (I needed more)
  • Cash envelopes (I barely use cash)
  • The debt snowball method (Why in the world?)

For the life of me, I could not understand why I would ever attack the lowest interest first. Instead, I stuck with my calculations and went for the BIGGEST balance and the HIGHEST interest rate first. I was not dabbling. Go big or go home, right?

Get Out of Debt Advice I Used

Even though I didn’t listen to all their advice, I still listened to Dave Ramsey’s podcast regularly and implemented my own version of his baby steps.

Most importantly, plugging into debt-free communities helped me to:

  • Focus on just one debt at a time
  • Live like no one else so that later I could live like no one else
  • Tell my money where to go, so I didn’t wonder where it went
  • Evaluate what I needed versus what was “extra fat”
  • Believe that debt-free living was possible (even with a modest income)

Using this advice, my husband and I paid off nearly $60k in student loans in 4.5 years, while both working as newbie teachers. But if I knew then what I know now, I would have done some things differently.

Here’s what I’ve learned about money and debt.

Rules of The Debt Game

Anyone with a beginner’s knowledge of debt knows you have to pay more than the minimum amount due to gain any traction toward paying off debt fast.

But when you don’t make a lot of money, how can you find any extra money to pay more than the minimum?

Basically, there are 2 methods:

  1. Great Offense – Earn more money.
  2. Great Defense – Spend less money.

Have one or the other? You’ll do ok.

But if you have both? You’ll be a Rockstar and can achieve financial independence.

So what did we do right? And where did we go wrong?

Our Ridiculously Awesome Defense

An interesting part of our story was a 6-month period when we moved two hours away. I was doing two internships and finishing grad school while my husband started his first “real” job. We went down to one income for the first time and had to live off a whopping $1,600 per month.

I scoured personal finance blogs and Pinterest for ways to save money. My evenings were spent reading reviews like this to find the best online grocery deals.

We had to change our habits, so we did the typical things:

  • Packed lunch every day
  • Stopped mindlessly browsing store aisles
  • Rarely bought restaurant or fast food
  • Brewed drip coffee
  • Watched Redbox movies for date nights

Basically, we led very simple lives and said no to invitations to go out with friends or to take spring break vacations.

We continued this frugal lifestyle even after I graduated college and started working as a school counselor. We didn’t earn a lot as new public educators, but we were diligent about how we spent our money and that’s how we “found” $400-$1,000 each month to throw at our debt.

We had great defense. But we totally missed half of the equation.

Our Ridiculously Weak Offense

For some reason, it never really dawned on me to focus on our income.

I had my 9-5 job (more like 7:15 – 5:15 most days), but we didn’t have any kids. We sure weren’t going out to concerts or traveling either.

Now that I’m a mom of two toddlers, I look back and think what in the world did I do with all that time? Why didn’t I start a side hustle or something?!

So Much More Opportunity Than Selling Crap

You hear the advice to sell stuff everywhere. I’ve even said it myself: Yes, you can find extra money to pay off debt by selling some crap from your house, garage, storage shed, etc.

I sold an exercise bike that I hated riding for $100. But I didn’t have much else worth selling and that was pretty much the extent of trying to increase my income.

Fast forward 4 years from my final student loan debt payment, and now I’m in absolute awe at the opportunities to earn money. How did I make this discovery?

Legit Opportunities to Make Money Online

About one year after my first baby was born, I took a huge leap of faith and left my 9-5.

Even though I earned 60% of our family income and I wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to earn money, I desperately wanted to be a stay-at-home mom.

After reading stories like these:

  1. Earn $30 – $50 an Hour Picking up Trash
  2. How I Earned $920 in 10 Days on Fiverr

I’m convinced you can earn money doing just about anything.

Within just three months, I met our financial goal of earning $1,000 per month. In fact, I found seven different ways to earn legit money online during my first year as a work-at-home mom.

I was baffled. How was this possible…and why didn’t I know about this sooner?!

5 Online Side Hustles That Earn $20+ Per Hour

People often ask what are some legit ways you can earn money working from home. And while you can earn money doing just about anything (see trash pickup story above), things like blogging usually take a lot more time.

For me, freelancing has been the fastest way to replace earn an income.

And below are five positions I see online business owners, bloggers, and even brick-and-mortar businesses looking to hire regularly:

  • Facebook Ads Manager
  • Virtual Administrative Assistant
  • Social Media Manager
  • Freelance Writer
  • Online Tutor

1) Facebook Ads Manager

If you’re one of the 2 billion people who has actively used Facebook in the past month, you’ve probably noticed “Sponsored” posts in your newsfeed.

Those sponsored posts are advertisements used by almost 3 million businesses, from large corporations to tiny bloggers. So many people are using them because they work.

And guess what?

Most of those people hire or would love to hire someone to do their Facebook Ads for them.

That’s why managing Facebook ads have become a lucrative and in-demand side hustle where people are earning $1,000-$2,000 per month.

2) Virtual Administrative Assistant

Speaking of business owners looking for help managing all the things, a virtual administrative assistant typically starts out earning $20-$35 per hour in the U.S. This was one of my first online jobs.

Virtual assistants can help with hundreds of different tasks, depending on what the person needs help with. Many blog and small business owners contract several virtual assistants to handle different tasks, such as:

  • Answering emails
  • Managing projects
  • Proofreading content
  • Creating graphics
  • Finding speaking, writing, or podcast opportunities
  • Scheduling social media posts
  • Curating content
  • Writing articles
  • Scheduling travel arrangements
  • And many, many more

Some companies hire employees who can work remotely, or you can be a freelance virtual assistant and contract to work with several clients at once. Learning how to become a virtual assistant was a game-changer in my goal to make money and be home with my kids.

3) Social Media Manager

Remember all those billions of people we talked about who actively use Facebook? Well almost every business these days not only needs to be on Facebook, but there’s also:

  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Pinterest
  • YouTube
  • Snapchat
  • And more!

There are so many aspects of running and marketing a business, and most business owners feel overwhelmed with how to do all the things.

So one of the first things I see people wanting to outsource is social media.

And what does that mean for you?

Another side hustle opportunity to earn money to be on social media! This post from Upwork has a nice breakdown of the different tasks and rates a social media manager would do.

4) Online Tutor

As someone who used to work in a school, I get a lot of questions about legitimate online tutoring options.

Since I personally haven’t done it, I decided to interview a few people who have. The good news is the those who tutor say VIPKID pay is $20 or more per hour and the curriculum is all provided. The bad news is the hours can be inconvenient since you’re tutoring children in China.

But if you have any bachelor’s degree, enjoy teaching, and have a solid grasp of the English language, online tutoring is a legit way to side hustle before or after normal working hours.

5) Freelance Writer

Another option if you’re good with words but want to work on your own schedule is freelance writing. If you look at the world around us, there are written words everywhere!

Every blog or website needs written content (although many blogs don’t pay for content).

However, there are some writing specialties where you have potential to earn a lot more than $20 per hour, such as:

  • B2B white papers
  • Ghostwriting eBooks
  • Email marketing
  • Case studies
  • Real estate
  • Finance

So if you’re a good writer or are willing to invest in yourself to learn in-demand skills, you can have awesome offense and defense to get out of debt fast.

Now It’s Your Turn

Sure, selling some clutter from around the house will bring in a little extra money. But eventually, you’ll run out of stuff to sell and you can only pinch your budget so tight.

If you really want to get rid of debt, be diligent with your spending and boost your income. There are five legit side hustles above that you can start at home.

With great money offense and defense, you can:

  • Attack debt faster
  • Have more of a life
  • Start new adventures without such a risky leap

So tell me, which money team are you on?

Team Defense – Extreme cheapskate but only earning pennies per month?

Team Offense – Raking in the doe, but spending it just as fast?

Team Rockstar – Raking in the doe, spending only a portion, and on track for financial independence?

Let me know in the comments below.

Val Breit is the Gatekeeper of TheCommonCentsClub.com, an exclusive club for people who use common “cents.” Her passion is teaching women how to confidently use money to create a life they love—without going broke.

9 thoughts on “Selling Your Crap To Get Out of Debt is Fine, But I Wish I’d Done This Instead”

  1. Selling crap works (assuming you have crap to sell) but depending on your tax situation (primarily whether you itemize and are in a high bracket) you may come out ahead giving the stuff away. It really depends on what you can sell it for and what you can justify as the value you donated. For example, if you have something you bought for $500 and you think you could get $50 at a garage sale for it, but you can justify a $150 value when donating it to Goodwill or similar, as long as your marginal tax rate is >33% you’re coming out ahead giving something away rather than donating it.

    At any rate, I agree that earning more money is frequently overlooked in the personal finance blogosphere, but you can’t really blame Dave Ramsey for that. He’s always telling people to get a second job, work overtime, or start a side hustle.

    1. Good point. I didn’t know anything about tax write-offs coming out of college. But the crap I had to sell was definitely not worth selling, but other might. And garage sales take a lot of time, so you better have a lot of great crap to make that a good ROI. And you’re right: Dave does recommend earning more. But because he always recommends getting another traditional job–like delivering pizzas–I didn’t realize the potential to earn money online from home. I can earn a lot more freelancing than I can selling my kids’ onesies for 50¢ a piece. :)

  2. I really enjoyed the post and completely agree that people (I’m one of them!) don’t spend as much time looking for increased earning potential as much as they (I) do looking for ways to save money. I think for me, I kind of find saving money to be fun, whereas I don’t always enjoy making more money. One thing though: ‘For the life of me, I could not understand why I would ever attack the lowest interest first. Instead, I stuck with my calculations and went for the BIGGEST balance and the HIGHEST interest rate first. I was not dabbling. Go big or go home, right?’. You do realize that the snowball approach is to pay off debt in order of the smallest to highest BALANCE (regardless of interest rate), right? It may be that in your case that was the lowest interest rate, but your statement kind of makes it sound like the snowball approach is to pay off debt in order of the smallest to highest interest. The reason for that approach (which Dave makes clear is not necessarily the least amount of payoff) is that there is a huge emotional impact to many people when they see a debt finally paid off, and that helps propel them to keep moving forward in their debt payoff. I have never personally done exactly Dave Ramsey myself, but I think it’s important to understand his reasoning on that, and it’s definitely worked for a LOT of people.

    1. Hey Sheila, thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. Yes, I do understand the debt snowball method and in my case, my smallest balance also had the smallest interest rate. So when I saw my loans listed out in order and I heard Dave Ramsey and Dani Johnson both swear by “smallest debt first,” I couldn’t understand WHY. I even second-guessed my own plan (which I had started before hearing about Dave or Dani). I think Dave does a much better job in recent years of explaining the behavioral reason behind the snowball method. And to be honest, I recommend the snowball method to most people I talk with about paying off debt who know they will stick with the plan better with more frequent wins. Ultimately, the end goal of being debt-free is the same and amazing no matter how you get there. But those “why in the world?” were real doubts I grappled with when I was fresh out of college trying to figure the whole debt, interest rate, money, and adult stuff out while everyone around me was adding debt via car payments and credit cards instead of eliminating it.

  3. I would add to this and say it’s about momentum. Knowing how to make money or pay down debt is simple. The challenge…for all of us is making and following through on the choices we’ve made. This is why regular evidence to confirm if we are on track (or not) is so important.

    1. Totally agree that momentum and affirmations that we’re on the right track are key for any goal, Peter. For me, the interest on my massive loan was the one that made me sick and drove me to take action. So seeing the principal of that debt decrease was my affirmation. And I knew traditional ways to make money (get a full-time or part-time job as an employee.) But I wish I had known what I know now about freelancing and options to earn money online. I stayed in a lot to pay off that debt and I was poking around on Pinterest and Facebook anyway. I could have earned a decent chunk of change but genuinely did not know it was even a thing people did. :)

  4. Hi Steve,

    Great article, but I would like to challenge your assumption on why anyone would follow a debt snowball. You stated “Why would you pay the highest interest first?” That’s not necessarily always the case, but you do pay off your debts smallest to largest with the former minimum payments getting added to the total you pay on debts every month.

    In fact there are multiple studies done that show debt snowball is superior to paying off debt vs working interest rates due to human behavior.

    https://www.kellogg.northwestern.edu/news_articles/2012/snowball-approach.aspx

    http://webuser.bus.umich.edu/srick/Winning%20the%20Battle.pdf

    https://hbr.org/2016/12/research-the-best-strategy-for-paying-off-credit-card-debt

    My wife and I were able to clear $160k debt in 18 months using debt snowball. We minimized our spending and attacked all the debts smallest to largest. By the last debt we were slugging $7k a month, and every windfall went to whatever debt we were attacking.

    Personally I would like to get a side hustle as an adjunct professor on the weekends, but I’m worried about total mental burn out.

    1. Congrats on your massive debt payoff, James! Totally understand the reasoning behind the snowball method now, how it works, and have no problem with it. Personally, when I graduated with all that debt and realized what interest really meant, I was motivated by the numbers and how much money I could save by paying it off early. Since my goal was to “save as much money as I can,” attacking the highest interest first (which was also the largest balance in my case–the one the snowball method says to do last) was the best strategy. Regardless of snowball, avalanche, or something in between, paying off a massive amount of debt and creating smart money habits is always a win worth celebrating.

  5. Pingback: 8 Simple Steps To Pay Off Debt on a Teacher’s Salary | Wealthy Nickel

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